Working long hours is supposed to help you secure a stable future, but that’s only going to happen if it doesn’t kill you first. A new study has found that workers who put in a lot of overtime have a significantly higher risk of stroke. The study was published August 19, 2015, by Mika Kivimaki—professor of epidemiology at University College London. It explores the causes behind this increased risk and strongly encourages today’s stressed workers to find ways to preserve their health.
Kivimaki and his team looked at data from 25 studies of more than 600,000 men and women in the U.S., Australia, and Europe. The participants’ health outcomes were tracked for an average of 8.5 years, and those who worked 55 hours or more per week were 33 percent more likely to have a stroke than those who worked an average 40-hour week. The more extra hours people put in on the job, the bigger the increase in stroke risk. Workers who clocked 41 to 48 hours per week saw an increase of 10 percent, but that increase shoots up to a whopping 27 percent once workers average 49 hours per week.
So what’s causing this? According to Kivimaki, a deadly combination of lack of physical activity, poor nutrition, high alcohol consumption, stress, and not enough sleep is the likely culprit. People with longer work hours also tend to have less time to go to the doctor—especially for routine evaluations. Limited time with friends and family can lead to social isolation, depression, and even more stress, and pressure to perform at work only magnifies that.
Unfortunately, cutting back on hours isn’t an option for most workers. Lifestyle changes need to happen within the workplace to really lower stroke risks, and these changes could be as simple as offering more flexible hours or encouraging more physical activity throughout the day. Walking meetings, a quiet room, and fewer alcohol-heavy after-work gatherings could all significantly improve health without cutting hours. Finding a work-life balance seems to be the key here, and all of society could benefit from workplaces with lower risks and healthier employees.